The State of Jazz Reissues 2009: Miles Davis and Art Pepper
Jazz is a Romance language. It relies as much, if not more, on music already played and pondered over than that being performed right now, much less germinating in a musician's mind for the future. How does a classic become a classic if not through the passage of time and repeated listenings?
The beauty of recorded music is that it exists to be repackaged, reconsidered and re-appreciated. Trumpeter Miles Davis and tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins' The Classic Prestige Sessions 1951-1956 and alto saxophonist Art Pepper's The Art History Project: Unreleased Art IV offer a bright contrast in the nature of re-issues by demonstrating how music is collected from various sources and then assembled for release or re-release.
Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins's
The Classic Prestige Sessions 1951-1956
Concord Music Group
Concord Music Group has at their command the largest library of jazz held anywhere. This library contains some of the most important jazz performances recorded. Because of the completeness of the archive, CMG easily assembled all of the sides recorded for its daughter label Prestige by Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins in one neat 2-CD package. CMG has successfully done this previously with pianist Thelonious Monk and saxophonist John Coltrane's The Complete 1957 Riverside Recordings.
The two collections are comparable in that they represent seminal developmental periods in the two saxophonists' respective careers. Coltrane was on hiatus from Miles Davis' quintet having been fired for his heroin addiction. His famous stint with Monk at the New York City Five Spot Cafe solidified his "wall of sound" approach before sending him back to Davis in 1958 and Milestones (Columbia) and Kind of Blue (Columbia) a year later.
Davis and Rollins recorded for Prestige at five different recording sessions between January 1951 and March 1956. This period is most notable for being Davis' first fallow period following the famous 1949 Birth Of The Cool (Capitol) nonet sessions. Davis suffered his famous heroin addiction between 1950 and 1954 and the recordings made during this period reflect his impairment. Re-emerging in 1955 at the Newport Jazz Festival with his first great quintet, Davis proved ready to change jazz. His subsequent recordings with Rollins tied up loose ends before the two would part and do their respective things.
These recordings are historical documents and are thus valuable. This is not the best Miles Davis, reflecting as it does his fragile state during the recordings. Davis' composing remained robust but his playing lacked the tartness he would develop during this first great quintet years and beyond. Rollins too is evolving. He is still several years away from his landmark A Night At The Village Vanguard (Blue Note, 1957). The sides including Charlie Parker playing tenor saxophone ("Compulsion," "The Serpent's Tooth" and "'Round Midnight") make for a pleasant artifact.
The Art History Project: Unreleased Art IV
Where The Classic Prestige Sessions 1951-1956 resulted from the library largesse of the Concord Music Group, The Art History Project: Unreleased Art IV resulted primarily from the tenacity of the saxophonist's widow and friends, though with the cooperation of CMG. Laurie Pepper has single-handedly added the most significant, previously unreleased contributions to Art Pepper's discography since the release of The Art Pepper Hollywood All-Star Sessions (2001, Galaxy Music Group).
The Art History Project: Unreleased Art IV is a bit misleading. The previous three recordings in the series were entirely comprised of previously unreleased performancesArt Pepper: Unreleased Art, Volume 1, The Complete Abashiri Concert, November 22, 1981, followed by Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Volume 2, The Last Concert, May 30, 1982 Kool Jazz Festival Kennedy Center, Washington D.C. and then Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Volume 3, The Croydon Concert, May 14, 1981.
The Art History Project: Unreleased Art IV also contains unreleased treasures but, as the last release in Laurie Pepper's personal series, attempts a career overview of the altoist than presenting only newly discovered material. The first disc ("Pure Art") is Pepper's pre-prison material recorded for Savoy, Contemporary, and Blue Note. This is the frosty, dry-ice, morphine cool Pepper, hipster par excellence. These characteristics are amply evident on "Besame Mucho" and "Begin The Beguine." Pepper's more biographical early recording include his two most famous originals, "Patricia" and "Straight Life," both present on disc one.